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Socialist presidential hopeful strikes tough pose in France
Segolene Royal talks tough on suburban violence
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-02 01:42 (KST)   
PARIS

Military training for unruly French teenagers. Boot camp for their parents. A heavy hand and zero tolerance. The latest rhetoric from the far right? No, these ideas are coming from the top Socialist contender for next year's presidential race, Segolene Royal.

Her hard-line response to renewed violence in troubled suburbs this week sounds strangely similar to that of her chief rival on the right, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. The battle is on between the two dynamic figures, and Royal's latest salvo attests that security will loom large in the election campaign.

It caught Sarkozy off guard -- but also worried many of Royal's fellow leftists, uneasy about her soaring popularity and her departures from the Socialist Partyline. The party has yet to choose its candidate for 2007, and many are jockeying for the spot.

"We need a return to the heavy hand," Royal said Wednesday night on a visit to Bondy, a suburb east of Paris hit by rioting that swept impoverished French neighborhoods for weeks last fall.

Critics say the government has failed to solve the problems the riots exposed: racism against immigrants, soaring unemployment among unskilled youth, and deep-seated alienation in the depressed housing projects that ring French cities.

Clashes broke out again on Paris' outskirts this week, as youths hurled gasoline bombs at a suburban city hall and pelted police with paving stones. Police fired rubber bullets in response, and the next night deployed in force. The violence appeared to have subsided by Wednesday night, but tensions remain palpable.

Royal called the government's handling of the suburbs' woes since the riots "an absolute failure." Royal, who became the darling of the polls largely without staking out any policy positions, laid out her platform on crime and security on Wednesday night -- and it was a far cry from the Socialists' standard emphasis on tolerance and greater funding for education.

"For a long time the left has minimized" security problems, she said. What's needed, she added, is something more "radical."

Among her ideas:
-Ordering youths over 16 who cause trouble to perform military or community service or learn a trade. That would help them "get to know the vast world and their good fortune to live in France," she said, lamenting President Jacques Chirac's abolition of mandatory military service.

-Sending parents of all school-age children to "parents' schools" as soon as their kids start committing "acts of incivility."
-Dispatching "troublemakers who spoil the life of junior high schools" to new reform schools at the first sign of disobedience.

She also urged linking family welfare payments to children's behavior. Ameasure allowing for such cutoffs exists but is widely ignored.

Royal has already infringed on the terrain of the right by campaigning for traditional family values and suggesting flexibility in the 35-hour workweek, one of the Socialists' key projects before they lost power in 2002.

Socialist Party chief Francois Hollande -- Royal's partner and father of her four children -- scrambled Thursday to make her position more palatable to party faithful.

"All ideas are useful at this stage. We shouldn't ignore any of them," he told reporters. But Hollande -- considered among contenders for the party's nomination -- also stressed that the party has not yet chosen its candidate for 2007.

Not everyone was convinced. Socialist lawmaker Jean-Christophe Cambadelis assailed Royal for "skidding out of control." By mimicking Sarkozy, he said, "We are not fighting him, we are legitimizing him." Some in the ruling center-right UMP party cheered her for defecting to their camp. Sarkozy, responding to her criticism of his handling of the violence, said sarcastically, "Now that she is asking me to be more firm, let her and her friends support me."

Sarkozy won backing from his rival on the right, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who dismissed Royal's ideas as nothing new.

"She is advancing in the directions where we have been already acting," Villepin told reporters Thursday.

Villepin's own fortunes have plummeted in recent months after massive protests over job reforms and a political dirty-tricks scandal. Once considered President Jacques Chirac's preferred successor, the debonair Villepin sought to save face Thursday by insisting that he had "learned lessons" from those crises.
ANGELA CHARLTON
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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